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Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics
Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics:
Cultures, Climate, and Materials
Patti Stouter, ASLA
First edition, November, 2008 Online version available at www.earthbagbuilding.com. Please share these self-help guidelines and let us know how to improve them.
Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics
TABLE OF CONTENTS: 3 4 6 6 7 9 10 10 12 13 15 18 20 24 25 26 28 Introduction BUILDINGS FOR PEOPLE PLANNING FOR COMFORT: Ventilation Shading Plantings Insulation DESIGN WITH NATURE: Plants Water and Soil LIGHTWEIGHT BUILDING MATERIALS COMPARING TYPES OF MASONRY BUILDING WITH MASONRY Acknowledgments The Author Bibliography Photo Credits
and mold-free if they are carefully planned. People also live differently in the tropics than in colder regions. A thatch and earthbag performance building in South Africa. The humidity is usually above 60% and often nearly 100% in many regions. because cultures have changed. This booklet and its sequels. They shouldn't throw money away building for a hazard that they don't have. dry. Simple. Large areas in the tropics. People in the tropics have to conquer torrential rains and termites. Buildings in other areas have conquered cold and dangers like earthquakes. .3 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Introduction Buildings for hot-humid climates should be comfortable in heat and dampness. New buildings should fit the ways people live in the tropics. These same new buildings are often uncomfortable and overpriced in the tropics. Earthbag Building in the Humid Tropics and Simple Earth Buildings for the Humid Tropics have some guidelines that can help you plan smarter for your beautiful and challenging part of the world. and differently than they did 100 years ago. Old traditional buildings don't fit the way they live now. like much of central Africa and central South America. are free from serious earthquakes or tsunamis. low-cost buildings can be cool.
need more room for belongings. People spend much more time inside. In some places small fires burn inside to give light and to keep the mosquitoes out and preserve roof rafters and thatch. and kitchens can be located where breezes will blow extra moisture and heat away. This is not just because they lack a 'better stove. People move. or can be separated by breezeways. How do people use buildings? In many city areas people still spend a lot of time outside and want porches or pavilions that shade and shelter them from rain. and the people. but expect houses to last. so houses seemed like a part of their own bodies. Much has changed. or free. Separate wash and cooking buildings are often used to keep moisture and heat out of the main building. Above right: Selling and visiting outdoors.4 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Buildings For People Old buildings responded to the weather. But they also want a good wall or fence to keep them safe. It was a basic personal skill. . The process of making buildings taught young people how to behave and to understand their world. laundry areas. but they could have outside access or be separated from the rest of the building. Many people outside of the biggest cities still prefer to cook over wood fires. Right: A modern apartment building in Cameroon. get different jobs. and may need to lock up their houses.' Wood may be cheaper. Above left: An outdoor workshop for a craftsman. the economy. Showers. The relationships and work patterns of the people lasted longer than their buildings. and old shapes may no longer work with how people live today. Locating them within the same walls may be less costly.
The only way to find out what they are is to ask the locals. Show them photos of traditional building details or styles. Above right: An Arabic arch motif for religion or ethnicity? Below right: A doorway at the mosque in Djenne. 1 Crouch and Johnson (2001). and remind them of their village background. Others may now prefer rectangular houses because these are the house types of 'rich people'. 1 These sloping pier shapes could be easily used in a new building. Many traditional house decorations are very beautiful and make life more pleasant for those who live in them. near Bamenda. and how these kinds of buildings make them feel.5 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Buildings also have meanings. Mali. 27 . Above left: A tiled building stays bright without refinishing. Among some people pinnacles or buttresses added to courtyard walls symbolize protection because they look like the ancient shrines called 'pillars of the dead' and the pinnacled mosques. Above right: An interior carved earthen pillar from Niger. They try to make their houses attractive by how they finish doors and windows or how they paint. Above left: Roofs of the powerful In northwest Cameroon. Ask what they think of them. Traditions in Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press p. Many peoples had round buildings until concrete block made them too difficult to build. People's houses reflect who they are. Cameroon. To some round buildings may feel more like home.
Make outdoor areas breezy: Keep them open to warmer season breezes. 120 . and plants nearby matter.908F. Verandahs with outside stairs obstruct breezes much less than interior halls. This is why ceiling fans make people feel cooler. 5 Koch-Nielsen (2002) p. including low openings. In the warm and humid zone of central Africa. But when the temperature of air is higher than skin temperature. p. In places where the climate alternates between dry and wet seasons. Holger (2002). 35 4 Many of these are explained in Koch-Nielsen and Brown. ➔ ➔ ➔ 2 Lauber p. London. Build 18 m downwind from a 3 m height building to allow breezes in. keeping humidity levels from building up as people exhale both moisture and heat. and materials rust and decay much more quickly than in other environments. Z. and the humidity may be frequently between 90 and 100%. and if possible protected from storm and cool season winds. but during the rainy season are damaged by mold growth caused by condensation. Mark (2001). Stay Cool.2 Hot-humid inland areas of the world have high humidity and temperatures that rise and fall slightly every day. G. NY: Wiley. They also need to be shaped to avoid direct sunlight and catch breezes.6 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Planning for Comfort Buildings in hot-humid climates need to be different from those in hot-dry climates. Sun. orientation.408 angle to the prevailing breezes.5 Make rooms breezy: Each room needs 2 exterior walls. Buildings that use the following strategies can be comfortable:4 VENTILATION: ➔ Catch the breeze: Locate on a hill or raise above the ground. London: James & James. and Dekay. Don't block the breeze: Spaces uildings out. and add breezeways in them. Their location. 101 3 Koch-Nielsen. Buildings in humid climates are also subject to more intense attack by insects. Wind and Light: Architectural Design Strategies. heavy buildings are comfortable in the dry season. 2nd edition. with many windows or vents. Heavy buildings can moderate the temperature in dry areas. at a 20. Breezes in high humidity allow people to feel cooler because of evaporation from their skin. Breezes also replace indoor air with fresh. southern Asia. the “cooling effect by evaporation is not possible even though the relative humidity is less than 100% “ 3 Buildings that rely on natural qualities for comfort need to be thoughtfully planned. and northern South America temperatures go from 75.
Although jalousie windows allow ventilation by keeping rain out while they are open. Be sure you are considering whether the sun is in the northern or southern sky at this time of year. ➔ Right: Porches' large openings ventilate adjacent rooms. Pull breezes in with wing-walls. Keep sunlight off of building walls: After aiming the building to catch the breeze. but let in the lower afternoon sun (right). ➔ Left: Wing-walls can direct wind. A sturdy adjustable shutter that pivots vertically in the center of the window sill may be able to secure a building and catch breezes too. low angle morning and afternoon sun heat up walls.7 ➔ Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Use vents as well as windows: If necessary use mosquito netting curtains inside walls of openwork or vent blocks. SHADING: ➔ Roofs shade walls in the middle of the day (left). casements under an overhang can be helpful to catch breezes. try to face the long sides (with most of the windows) towards the south and north so the roof overhang shades walls and windows in the middle of the day. especially during the hottest season. and shutters or casement windows that open outward. Screen porches or verandahs to allow openings to unscreened windows in the center of the building. . ➔ Shade in the afternoon: Keep west and east sides short to let less of the hot. Windows or shutters on one or two sides can block breezes on cool evenings.
➔ High ceilings let hot air rise above the people so the room feels cooler to its occupants.8 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Best directions for buildings with least need for vertical screens to prevent overheating. .
Vines block breezes and will grow over openings. Tall trees can shade roofs and reduce temperatures. ➔ ➔ ➔ Above: Nearby buildings can squeeze breezes into a narrower path speed them up. like natural air conditioners. Use greenwalls for breezy west walls. For openings use vertical sunscreens. Trees. Don't make sun traps of heavy walls around sunny paved areas. and pavement. Locate plantings between walls and other paved areas when possible. shutters and slit windows help keep low angle sun out. or shrubs to reduce heat gain on western walls. Use few windows and doors.9 ➔ Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Cover openings on west and east ends. Plants cool by evaporating moisture as well as by shading. ➔ Use white or light colors that stay cooler on sunny walls. Funnel breezes with building walls or plants: Breezes are slowed by friction. because the wall may need some irrigation. . Use trees like palms that are open underneath on the breezy side. Right: Vertical screens. roof. If buildings must be close together. A green wall of low-growing plants can lower the wall temperature. climbing vines. PLANTINGS: ➔ Let plants cool you. The wall itself should be waterproof. Plants can be planted into concrete vent blocks filled with soil after construction. shrubs and vines that shade the ground or buildings in the afternoon reduce the local temperature. use them to aim and speed up the breeze.
If air can flow up inside the roof and out vents above. Peoples of hot. by Sri Laurie Baker. Today people from most parts of the world define buildings as the spaces they enclose and control. Electricity for fans or air conditioning is unreliable and condensation from humidity causes more problems than the heat. humid areas needs to cooperate with nature to use the available materials. Above: A corridor defined by a brick screen or jali. Opening to the breezes is much more effective. People in temperate regions can prepare for unpleasant weather by removing trees to let the sun in. which causes condensation. the roof stays cooler. In hot. dusty winds out. Construction in hot. People of the drier hot regions prepare by digging fountains and pools. soils. humid regions can define buildings as roofs with spaces blending from indoors to out through screens instead of walls. Use light-weight or well-insulated materials so the building won't feel hot. and building thick house and courtyard walls to keep hot. A sense of security and enclosure may come more from people or a compound or courtyard wall than the building walls themselves.10 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics INSULATION: ➔ Keep attic heat out by using a vented roof and an insulated ceiling.as a problem or as a gift. The land is a problem to be overcome. Reflective foil draped across the rafters help. The best locations are often hilltops with shallower or fragile soils. and plants. allowing breezes in. Keep coolness out of the walls: Use insulation at the base of masonry walls to stop them being cooled by the soil below. or insulation made of materials that don't soak up humidity. ➔ ➔ Design With Nature There are two different ways people look at the landscape they build in. People in dry or cold areas improve their comfort by buildings and land shaping that control the climate. and the shade of a multitude of plants. Living in the humid tropical area should teach that nature is a gift. and building larger. . stockpiling fuel. True comfort comes from breezes which we cannot control. breezes. sealed homes. humid areas trying to shut out the unpleasant weather does not work well.
and make shutters or blinds adjustible. Whether they are acclimatized or not. or constant humidity? Above: A breezy patio in Cameroon. Opinions of the people using the buildings are important. and how often too cool? Is rain with driving winds a major problem. people who can control their environment feel comfortable in a wider range of conditions. No single building can satisfy all the design strategies for comfort listed above. societies in warm humid regions may have placed more emphasis on day to day experience than planning for future events. The roof was more important than walls. about the breezes. Those used to air conditioning may only tolerate very narrow ranges of temperature and humidity. Residents of hot humid areas are more used to having damp skin. where storms come from.11 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Traditional settlements in humid regions developed from farmers who built scattered houses. Relationships and interaction could be valued more than material objects. Wind directions are very important. Acclimatized people in hot regions can tolerate hotter and more humid conditions. To create a good climateresponsive building one must compare them and choose which goals are most important for the particular users and location. Each of us is happier if we can see why it is hot or damp. How many months is it too hot. . or people who work there. and modify the amount of sun or breeze entering. Ask neighbors. Mention buildings or rooms they are familiar with that have different exposures. Average information may not be accurate for your site. Because of the relative abundance of food and building supplies. Provide access to a window or vent for each person. and why. People from temperate or subtropical areas living short-term in the tropics will suffer more from heat and humidity than the locals do. Left: A curving screen wall by Laurie Baker. but cannot tolerate weather that is as cool. how strong they are. Since weather could not be completely shut out it influenced the timing of daily activity. and ask which ones are most comfortable. Ask what times of day and seasons are most uncomfortable. and enjoy the cooling that brisk breezes bring indoors. In the densest jungles these were transient settlements in small openings. and the encircling forest provided shade and protection. Find out when they blow. Plan buildings differently for nationals and foreigners.
or on the edges of streams or lakes. planted with special drought tolerant plants. and are very hard to get rid of.this will mean large areas bare and hard-packed. Many native plants suit the climate and soils of an area perfectly. Locations near parks or planted areas are often much cooler. Some. They can be limbed up to allow breezes underneath. Some provide edible fruits or medicine or gourds for making musical instruments. 6 Information for different regions of the world is available at www. Any shade or green surfaces you can add help to cool the area. And the soils of some parts of the humid tropics are among the most perishable of any on earth. put stakes or mesh fences around the work area. Big machines are easiest to use with lots of room to turn and back up.6 Right: Australian pine lowers the water table where it grows thickly.12 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Plants Cities are hotter than the countryside because all the pavement and walls heat up in the sun.plants from other areas that reproduce too vigorously. The preferred hill sites often have shallower soils than lower slope areas. Ground level cannot be changed beneath existing trees without damaging them. like iroko and mahogany are becoming rare because they have been overcut. It is simpler to leave the ground near trees untouched. Flatten or prepare only enough land to build on and work on right now and leave plants on the rest. Sometimes their seeds or cuttings can be taken for free.thin layers of lightweight rock added on top of a waterproof membrane. Preserving existing plants is also the best way to keep the soil that you will need for growing new plants in the future. but will need protection. If heavy machines will be used.gov/international . repairing the soils. Sometimes large machines cost too much in terms of preventing damage to trees. unless retaining walls leave most of their roots undisturbed. Keeping a wide variety of plants growing in an area makes it a richer place for people as well as animals.invasivespeciesinfo. New plants can be added to increase shade but will need time to grow before they help much. Some of these are invasive exotics. Preserve as many trees as possible to shade your building and yard. The soil beneath their branches must not have heavy stacks of materials or trucks parked on it. Many attractive plants that nurseries sell are used all over the world because they are easy to grow. Be careful what new plants you choose. squeeze out native species. In the tropics the processes of decomposition are so quick that natural fertility washes out and water-holding material rots and disappears. In areas of heavy rainfall these might need drainage added under the growing media. Some people use green roofs to keep buildings cool. and replanting and waiting years for shade afterwards. and are useful as well. and could be valuable in the future.
og.13 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics If people remove all the plants and scrape the soil into a stack to use later. Air flowing into a building from near the ground on the shady side can cool the building off significantly.7 Live branches freshly cut that are used as stakes can also grow. narrow buildings along the side of a hill instead of diagonally across. or running up and down the slope. Right: Hills can be stabilized by staking logs in place until plants grow. 9 Dec 1998. can soak up sunlight and warm the area. One alternative to retaining walls is to carefully plant steep slopes. soil degrades.dnr. 'Study: Land use affects weather. If people want flat outdoor spaces to use on hillsides. the average temperature in an area can go up.us/water/pubs about stream stabilization includes techniques that work in drier areas. It may never support as rich plant life as it did before. Walls are expensive. Try to leave some flatter damp spots below your buildings and roads. Or better. they will need to build retaining walls to terrace their land.8 7 Information at www. and the amount of rainfall can decrease. New organic materials will have to be added. This process will also destroy all the trees or shrubs on the area. Logs or bundles of twigs (called fascines) staked in a level row will also hold the soil in place. B-7 . because many native plants depend on soil organisms that die in stockpiles. Keep walls and slopes smaller by stretching long. Steep planted slopes are best in less crowded areas because they take more room than retaining walls and can't be walked on. Left: Tall retaining walls limit ventilation. New fabrics can be used or scrap wood from pallets can be staked across the slope to hold steep hillsides in place until the plants grow. When people throughout a region all drain wetlands. Water and Soil An important side benefit of preserving existing plants is that rain will soak into land.state. Natural wet areas have special soils and soak water up and release it slowly into the soil and streams. 8 Associated Press (1998).' New Mexican. It is not always possible to 'restore nature' after development. and they don't let breezes through. raise the building up on stone or earth piers or arches and let the rain run undisturbed under it.
Place some gutters below to gather the water.14 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics People who live where rains are heavy can still suffer from lack of water during dry seasons. If heavy machines drive on land it becomes deeply compacted. and plants chosen must tolerate the soaps used. Where rain is allowed to soak in. bundles of small branches called fascines or straw bales can 9 Sahra. Plants can also be used to clean waste water. If siltation fabric is not available. Paved areas used for cars and animal pens pollute rainwater. A 1030m wide strip does a lot to keep streams clean. and gullies can spread until a hillside collapses. On these areas. lakes. and pavement and bare yards. Ditches that run down a hillside need small check dams of stones or straw bales to slow the water. If plants do not grow quickly on a hill. Plants can also clean water.9 Water is very powerful. Gray water from showers and bathroom sinks does not usually contain much grease or chemicals. Always direct runoff away from bare soil.arizona. Arizona Board of Regents (2001). they may not be able to grow later. If it is allowed to flow straight into a perforated pipe in a plant bed it is not dangerous. Often neighbors' land downhill and downstream are damaged.edu/programs/water_cons/tips/re-use/gray. The pipe and plant beds must be long enough for the volume of water. A small ditch at the top of a hill that directs extra water away from the steepest places may prevent a gully from starting. and wells have more water during more of the year. Left: Once gullies start they are very hard to stop. rain can't soak in and more water goes more quickly to streams and causes floods. and your cistern will stay cleaner.sahra. try to leave thick growing plants next to them. as long as they are not root or leaf vegetable crops. If you must use concrete gutters to save stormwater. What Is Gray Water? Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Web site at www.htm . let rain run off of your pavement and hard dirt areas all along their edges into plantings. and has few germs. Once gullies form. If you have streams nearby. and it moves more quickly on bare ground than through plants. streams. Right: Clean water is a precious resource. plants can't grow in the exposed subsoil and rock. It is a good idea to place a silt fence of filter fabric along the downhill side of building work. but shallow ditches with fast-growing plants can clean it before it runs into streams or cisterns. Places where water runs together and speeds up are most often damaged during construction.
they must be used carefully. But it may be as important to find out how comfortable materials will be in a building. and bamboo are cheaper as well as cooler than masonry. One of the most important goals is to build of “lightweight and low heat-storing materials” so there won't be much heat radiated towards the inside. 112 . where termites or ants even emerge through concrete floors to eat furniture and walls. Above left: The award winning Handmade METI school in Bangladesh is built of bamboo and earth. grass. Paints and metals exposed to the sun and rain break down quickly. The lowest part of a work site may be the most important place to protect. This can be difficult in the tropics. p. Left: A first floor classroom in the Handmade School. Lightweight Building Materials A building should last long and be comfortable. Often they are only used on second stories or in buildings raised up above the ground on some sort of piers. Above: An old reed and thatch building in Cameroon. But because they rot easily or are eaten by insects.11 10 Koch-Nielsen.10 Traditional building materials like wood.15 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics also keep dirt from washing out. palm. Above: Wood house on an earthbag foundation in Bermuda. A shallow settling basin may be helpful on a larger site. Bales of straw or bags of rice hulls staked at an outlet from the lowest part of the work site can clean water if it doesn't overflow past them.
11 More information about this beautiful building and the community work on it is at www. Bamboo roof rafters can also span much further than wood. if the inside is packed with a little concrete and let dry before the bolt is tightened all the way. It can be bolted. Wood can also be smoked to discourage termites and mold. The Pallet Truss. 12 von Bachmayr. Ask older people in the villages which local woods are more durable.com. Cameroon church. Below: Breezy wood louvers in a Yaounde.16 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Even located on upper levels. Left: Innovative bamboo framing at the Handmade School. shutters. Retrieved from Builders Without Borders Web site: . Even if wood is not chosen for structure or walls it can be used for breathable wooden louvers. being ready for building after 3.anna-heringer. Bamboo works best inside.12 Small diameter wooden poles may also be freely available or less expensive because they do not require milling. Use a single layer of boards or bamboo for walls and locate rooms that need privacy at opposite ends of the building. and can be more resistant to rotting and termites. They are stronger than milled wood per cross-section area. Waste shipping pallets have been used to produce shutters and low-cost roof truss structures. or railings. Wood may be available in unusual forms. If bamboo is dried well and then given a simple smoke treatment it can last a very long time as long as it is not rained on. wood or bamboo posts covered by wood boards or sheetrock may rot too quickly because they never can really dry out. or under a wide roof overhang.6 years. Alfred (undated). Bamboo is cheap since it grows quickly. Right: Basketweave wood shutters.
But the simplest way to keep rooms cool and quiet may be to bind reeds with wire or cord into thick flexible batts to use as an insulating ceiling that can be replaced periodically. White.17 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Other lightweight materials include reeds and grass. Metal roofs are relatively inexpensive although they can be very noisy in a heavy rain and hot in sunny conditions. also don't burn very easily. Traditional reed thatched roofs are cool. Kelly (2004) Amazing Rice Hulls.com/weblog/2004/12/amazing-rice-hulls.builderswithoutborders. Wire or plastic mesh can be fastened between collar ties or under roof trusses to hold insulation in bags. Rice hulls. attractive ceiling. Natural materials can be used inside to provide sound or heat insulation. or as separate shutters. Retrieved 10-24-2008 from Green Home Building Web site at www. and last up to 40 years. They may be used for upper stories. Sea grass. But moldy thatch in the most humid areas can cause health problems. if available. It does not burn easily because of its natural high salt content. and have an Rvalue of around 3 per inch. rice hulls.htm 13 Hart. and wood as basket work.13 Sea grass or rice hulls can be used in breathable bags. Sea grass is a type of seaweed that is harvested from beaches where it washes up and can be made into batts or pellets. but need to be treated with a simple fire retardant like borate. and coconut fibers don't absorb much humidity. Below right: Mats below bags for ceiling. and then installed more quickly. Coconut fibers are sometimes made into thick mats. quiet. Some people have begun making thatch in modular units assembled on the ground. These are not used often in modern buildings for exterior walls.greenhomebuilding. Many people prefer galvanized metal roofs because they won't burn and keep rain out more completely for longer.org/PUBLICATIONS/PUB6. to screen large openings in exterior walls. Right: Rice hulls in bags to insulate. left over from growing rice to eat. Any of these may work well under a metal roof.htm . is much cooler. www. Woven grass mats or fabric fastened below them would make an inexpensive.
'Straw.. They keep mosquitoes out better than wood buildings. and thieves out. LBTP (Building & Public Works Lab) . Clay and Carrizo' in Elizabeth and Adams (2005). Stone and brick walls have been used for beautiful buildings worldwide. Earth buildings last well when maintained. 15 New Zealand www.nz. Outside walls of raw earth that get rained on should be replastered every few years unless they have special coatings. Buildings can be made of raw earth with cob walls or mud block. is inexpensive and widely available. like the UK and Germany. and are less subject to overheating and dampness than stone or concrete. keeps pests and thieves out. but you have to know enough to make a good choice. Buildings raised 50 cm above the ground with a good vapor barrier are drier. NY: John Wiley and Sons. A good roof and a dry base of stone or concrete are very important. The earth buildings common in wet countries. Many countries are beginning to include earth buildings in their building codes. you are free to build strong but cheaply. some codes apply unnecessary rules and make buildings more expensive without being safer.earthbuilding. Ivory Coast. they do not care. even through concrete. Raw earth buildings need to be protected from rain and flooding to work well in humid climates. Even if they know they will sacrifice comfort and coolness during the day. This flexible and beautiful material is recently being revived and becoming more generally accepted and understood. Left: New earthblock building in Thailand. and keeps insects. For some people “Their dream house is of concrete. like the houses they see belonging to the rich. If your area does not have a code. Many people build with concrete now. or that they will never be able to afford that dream house. Bill and Athena. or compressed soil in rammed earth walls or compressed earth blocks (CEBs). last a long time. don't burn. rodents. and are cheaper and easier to build than brick or stone.org. 14 Steen. because these buildings seem modern. Earth walls don't get hot or cool very quickly because earth insulates better than concrete. In rainy areas damaging moisture can creep from the soil up walls.. have lasted hundreds of years without following building codes. Alternative Construction. The compressed earth can have some lime or cement or bitumen added to preserve it in the rain.15 Unfortunately.18 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Comparing types of masonry People want houses that last. There are other ways to use earth. They will wait for the day when they can have a 'real house'. It doesn't burn.”14 The majority of permanent buildings throughout history have been built of earth.
3) Fired bricks. Heavy concrete walls in very humid areas become frequently damp from condensation.3 times better 16 Minke. 14. pp. Raised floors and a good vapor barrier will not prevent this.1 times better 1. warms up slowly and cools down slowly.1 times better 4.9 times better Holds the most heat1. Every time that damp air warms up just a little more than a building. Building with Earth .8 times better (19) 11 + times better (0. and insulating: Materialthickness How much heat it holds (btu/in/8F) 2. The most dampness they absorb from the air (5. causing algae or mold growth.7% by weight) is not enough to let insects or mold grow (which need between 14 and 20%). like stone or concrete.6 times better (10) 2.5) (8) 1. Materials are comfortable in hot.8) (1. and because they absorb more humidity.2 times better 4.solid 10 cm Hollow conc.rat trap 20 cm 3.4) (5.2 times better (17) 4.15 17 This table has been assembled from data in Stay Cool.4 times better (33) 8.17 This is how common building materials compare at holding heat or cold.1) (2. Solid earth walls will receive less condensation than concrete because they are less dense. and the Passive Solar Energy Book . Many people don't realize that raw earth buildings are healthier than concrete in high humidity. damp weather if they don't hold much heat or if they are very well insulated.15cm Fired bricks. Very humid air is near its dew-point.4) (1. damp air will wet it frequently.7 or more times better Insulation (R value) Solid concrete. 2006. block.20cm Mud block or cob.16 Right: An earth building in Thailand. moisture in it condenses on the slightly cooler surface.2) (4. They never absorb enough water to let mold grow on them like concrete does.40cm Light earth – 48cm (15) Insulates the worst (0.20cm CEB.8 times better (8) 2.19 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Since heavy masonry.
in earthbags.20 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics The last material on the list is a relatively new combination of local soil and naturally ocurring rock materials that works well even in hot humid weather. because they do not insulate well. and may be too expensive. Light earth. Hunter. Flexible form rammed earth or earthbag uses the strength of woven fabric bags while it dries. Donald (2004). Rat trap bond stands 18 Earthbag Building. poured concrete. with conventional doors and windows between. Any pumice added to earthbags will reduce the amount of heat it holds and increase its insulation value. or steel reinforcement. which absorbs too much moisture to be useful in humid areas. Earthbag is finished with a plaster layer of earth materials and/ or cement or lime. and vermiculite. Light earth contains lightweight gravels like pumice or scoria. Earthbag Building. gravel. it may also make the most comfortable building. These also require more accurate mixes of materials and better trained labor than earthbag. it combines some of the properties of rammed earth without the need for heavy forms. Common fired bricks can make versatile thin walls. When dried. or soil without clay. Gabriola Island. which may compact with time. Earthbags can also be built of loose sand. BC. It can be formed into blocks.better techniques for drier regions. used in rammed earth walls. Even earth construction of cement stabilized mud block or CEB are 5% Portland cement. or in what has been called the cheapest building method on earth. wood. Canada: New Society Publishers. p. like cob and mud block. They differ somewhat in insulating value. or have a plaster of cement stucco. and earth blocks are much more expensive than earthbag. Other light materials include perlite. Poured concrete and CMUs contain 25% expensive Portland cement.18 and is the most suited to hot and humid climates. 17 . Kaki and Kiffmeyer. the earth is strong enough without reinforcement if it is built in the right shapes and sizes. Brick. Above: Earthbags are built by stacking. if they use some bamboo. These broken volcanic rocks are available at reasonable costs in many areas with active or dead volcanoes. Building with Masonry The cheapest and easiest way to build a solid building is with a system called earthbags. Solid brick works best where walls are shaded by plants or other buildings. Expanded clay is manufactured by heating. modifies humidity. If nearby pumice or volcanic gravel can be added. Because it is tamped. concrete block. a construction technique like sandbags. This kind of earthbag building works well with between 5% and 30% clay.
Above: Rat-trap bond brick technique. Preeti (2006).html .archidev. Brick can be formed into beautiful openwork “jali”. Architecture for Development.20 Above left: A beautiful wall of brick jali by Baker. 2 November 2006 at www. but in parts of India allows a building temperature inside 58 C lower than outside. Below: Another jali pattern in a curving wall by Baker.net/work/work/booklets-and-writing-by-laurie-baker.laurie-baker. often fired with waste rice hulls. as Sri Laurie Baker created in India. but may cost only 10% as much as a window. allows ventilation and glimpses out. www. It uses a little more brick than a solid single layer wall. Jali lets in subdued light. Laurie. Small scale jali keep driving rain out.21 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics bricks on edge around a hollow center. but keeps the inside private and secure. or outside with special finish coats. 19 Sanghi.19 Low-fired bricks absorb more water than common fired brick.org/articles 20 Baker. 'Rat-Trap Bond for Walls'. Rural House Plans. They are cheap. They can be used for inside walls.
5 times thicker than fired bricks. Below left: Piers between windows allow good ventilation with earth block Below: Slatted screens bounce light into the rooms. and can be produced by individuals with simple equipment. but they insulate better and moderate humidity better than fired bricks. Either of these may be difficult to build in wet climates because they dry slowly. . Rammed earth walls need large forms to hold the earth in. Historic structures have been built up to 8 stories. Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Above: A Cinva-Ram hand press for making compressed earth block. Left: The award winning Grando School in Burkina Faso built of CEBs. but is twice as thick as CEB walls. can be very strong and waterproof. Solid earth can be rammed or built as cob. often with a small amount of bitumen or cement to make them waterproof. They are strong enough to build in multiple stories. and have been used in China and Nepal for centuries. Because they are less expensive than fired brick. Unbaked mud block (or adobe) is usually built by masons.22 Compressed earth blocks (CEBs) use earth with about 5.10% clay. It requires special water resistant plaster layers on exterior walls that must be renewed every few years. They are usually 2. these blocks are improving living conditions in many countries. Cob walls can be built without forms.
The lighter. It is common practice for workers to use less concrete in the mix. These buildings don't heat up as much as solid masonry. weaker blocks available in hot regions. and so may have more condensation problems than thinner CEBs. and save bags out to use at home or resell. and people are accustomed to more forgiving rule-of-thumb type work than high precision measurement. humid areas is to use weak. sometimes called sand cement blocks. forms are added and steel reinforced concrete columns and bond beams are poured. In other countries it may take a laborer 3 days or more to earn the same bag. are better at insulating. In the US and Europe hollow CMUs are made strong enough for structural use. In Africa. and if painted with waterproof paints the inside walls can be scrubbed. hollow concrete masonry infill between poured concrete posts and beams. This can be very strong in areas subject to earthquakes. workers often 'borrow' supplies. South America and Asia cement may be too valuable a commodity for common use. After the block work is done. and unreliable concrete supplies complicate this type of building. but must be very thick to be strong. The most common solution for those with enough money in warm. In many parts of the world Portland cement is a luxury item.23 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics hold at least as much heat as adobe. leaving gaps for columns. Left: Pouring a concrete bond beam on a block wall. In the US a laborer works about half an hour to earn a bag of cement. Right: Hollow CMU walls with concrete posts Increasing prices of steel and concrete. Concrete may not be right for places where public officials expect gifts. or poured solid with concrete. Usually the blocks are built first by skilled masons. .
and giving me such a good introduction to Cameroon. Both of these will be available at www. Asking about the past can enrich the future. for so many patient explanations about building in Africa.com. Additional intangible costs will also include discomfort. Right: Baker's Loyola Hostel. Acknowledgements Thank you. Some new ideas can be combined with ancient traditions of responding to weather. I also benefited from the willingness of the CABTAL (Cameroonian Bible Translation Organization) and SIL staff and others to discuss buildings. and health damage from living with mold. Buildings in warm humid areas can be built well and beautifully and without great cost. Paul Dubois. New buildings can shelter people in ways that they need without abandoning all the beauty of their traditional building shapes. and the chance to view and photograph the buildings of the region. Overall concrete buildings may not be the best choice for hot and humid climates.earthbagbuilding. belongings ruined by mold growth. Construction needs are . Most of my information on adapting to tropical climates has been gathered from many excellent books that are the result of years of research. their wisdom is not generally known. Yet since most of these books also cover many different climates. Sketches of house shapes for nonhazardous areas are in Simple Earth Buildings for the Humid Tropics. For more information: Examples of layouts and construction suggestions for building light earth with earthbag are in Earthbag Building in the Humid Tropics.24 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Maintenance costs of repainting and scrubbing interior walls need to be considered before building with concrete. May we all keep the good and the beautiful from our past.
org has been particularly helpful with many comments and proofreading. Owen Geiger of www.com with comments. Dr. A year of working on buildings for western Africa.earthbagbuilding.grisb. My experience with site planning and passive solar heating in temperate areas helps me to know what to avoid for the tropics. accurate modern books need to focus on this region. We appreciate the beauty of buildings.25 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics great in the densely populated and developing regions of the humid tropics. Practical. The author Landscape architects are trained to consider the effects of sun and wind on buildings. Builders from other cultures who are Christians need to remember to follow the master who 'had nowhere to lay his head'. and a single trip to Cameroon make me a novice at working cross-culturally. and suggestions to improve these free resources. Translators often consider the full range of their home culture's thought and worldview as they explore the Bible's teaching of a creator God who knows and loves them and desires to be fully known. I hope others will continue to make appropriate technology more available to the tropical world. but remember that Jesus cared more about the structure of relationships between his followers than about buildings. I am a volunteer with a service NGO called Wycliffe Associates that supports international literacy and translation workers. photos of examples. They apply the understandings of anthropology and linguistics to develop alphabets and teach translation and literacy skills. Please contact me at handshapedland@yahoo. Those who have promoted earth construction and developed earthbag systems generously share information. .com and www. Wycliffe Bible Translators believe that every ethnic group has a right to be able to understand and study the Bible in their own 'heart' language. WA provides construction (and other short-term volunteer) support in many parts of the world to translators who seek to understand and support indigenous cultures. The information I share about earth and earthbag construction is also the result of years of research.
UK: James and James. The information about windbreaks. mud block. including rammed earth. and mud block as well as some inspiring photos of building examples. Sun. Strawbale and light earth made with straw are too subject to mold to be appropriate for humid climates.au/lam/climate/levelthree/cpeople/build4. . Wolfgang (2005).Z. Mark (2001).htm Other helpful books about climate appropriate strategies for tropical regions are: Brown. This beautifully illustrated volume contains many examples of traditional vernacular buildings and contrasts their performance with some climate-appropriate and some inappropriate modern buildings. Holger (2002).html or www. Alternative Construction: Contemporary Natural Building Methods. A wealth of technical information about rammed. Basel: Birkhauser. Germany: Prestel. Gernot (2006). This large volume has many wonderful graphics of built examples and specific charts for sizing and evaluating construction. and Adams. has some interesting photos of example buildings. And Dekay. Information is also available at web pages like www. and CEBs. Cassandra. wing-walls and wind-catchers may be worth the price of the book. A good general introduction to the various earthbuilding techniques. Wind & Light: Architectural Design Strategies. G. (2005). compressed earth.yourhome. Lynne.gov. and illustrates techniques for both hot humid and hot dry areas. Building materials: Elizabeth. Lauber.gov/au/technical/fs44.26 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics BIBLIOGRAPHY Building in the Humid Tropics: The most generally useful introduction to responding to the climate is: Koch-Nielsen. 2nd edition. Stay Cool: A Design Guide for the Built Environments in Hot Climates. This small volume covers the basics. Latin America and South-East Asisa. Minke. Tropical Architecture: Sustainable and Humane Building in Africa. NY: John Wiley and Sons. Building With Earth: Design and Technology of a Sustainable Architecture. eds. London.bom. Munich. NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Web sites that are very helpful include: www.pdf A good introduction to Low Impact Development for builders or homeowners is at www. www. . www.in This 33 page booklet has nice illustrations and is a good introduction.27 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Phadke.de/daten/ eike_roswag.meti-school. And www. This 22 page manual has a good basic explanation of basic erosion controls with photos and drawings. Booklets about building in India by the architect who pioneered beautiful practicality. Lots of photos of examples and links to many organizations and test results.akdn. available at www.lauriebaker.earthbagbuilding.anna-heringer.html. Healthy Landscapes and Plantings: A digital book and a helpful web site: Jefferson County. Planning and Zoning Division(2007). Sourabh (2008). Small Site Erosion and Sediment Control Manual.jeffco.org/lidarticles/Builder_LID. Available at www. Earthbags.pdf.org Focuses on technology for development and emergency response.net/work/work/booklets-and-writing-by-laurie-baker.jpg Information about the Grando School in Burkina Faso.com The best web site to explore how to's and who's done what with earthbags. Examples of Tropical Buildings: Some Web sites that are inspiring: www. www.org/images/slideshows/home_3.grisb.lowimpactdevelopment.htm Information about the Handmade School in Bangladesh and other projects.mkf.com/index. Colorado. available in English and Marathi. A lot of self-help resources and technical information in the publications section.us/jeffco/planninguploads/guides/small_site_erosion.php?id=31.
greenhomebuilding. from www.org/library/images. Bill and Athena. Burkina Faso designed and fundraised by Diebedo Francis Kere. Traditions in Architecture: Africa.akdn. 21. p. UK: Oxford University Press.earthbagbuilding. June (2001).org and www. Steen. photos from Aga Kahn award website www. 5 Djenne mosque www.com. 12 Australian pine www. Dan Moore. Paul Dubois and the people from Earthbag Building and the Laurie Baker website for generously sharing your photos. 15 Residence in Rum Cay. . p. p.earthbagbuilding.php3?id_article=918 “rat trap bond for Walls” 2 nov 2006 p. 2005 sketch of carved pillar based on photo in African Style. School in Bangladesh by Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag. Gibbs Smith. from www.org/articles. 10 Detail of brickwork designed by Laurie Baker.inhabitat.htm p. and 24. America. School in Gando.nps. 18 Building in Thailand. Taschen. also on page 16. Oxford.com. or Paul Dubois except: P.com/2007/09/06/aga-khan-awards-school-in-rudrapur. photos from www. more photos on pages 11. Photos: Too few photos are available on the internet of tropical buildings new and old. for celebrating new structures that work well. Thanks to Dan Moore. p. 22 CEB press from http://radio. 20 Residence in Colorado.org. p. Asia.akdn.gov/plants/ALIEN/fact p. from www.28 Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics Traditional Building Styles: Crouch.com.archidev. from www. and Oceania. Dora P.com/0119080/categories/buildingsystems. US by Kelly Hart. Most photos are by Patti Stouter. There should be more resources for understanding regional traditional and colonial structures. and Johnson. 17 Photos of rice hull insulation. Eiko Komats (2003). Built by Hand. p. photo by Seema K K. also page 19. and for sharing new ideas.com/weblog/2007/12/using-earthbags-asceiling-insulation.com.earthbagbuilding. 3 Performance space by Joseph Kennedy for Next Aid in South Africa from www. Bahamas by Steve Kemble and Carol Escott. 21 brick detail from www.earthbagbuilding.weblongs.archnet.